Red Sox 3B Will Middlebrooks has been keeping a diary for ESPNBoston.com this season. As he continues playing in Pawtucket, he goes over how the trade deadline affected him and how he handles not getting called back up yet, addresses rumors, and gives his thoughts on all those Boston walk-off wins. -- as told to Louise K. Cornetta
In the week leading up to the trade deadline on Wednesday, I knew there were a lot of rumors where my name was mentioned. Honestly, I tried not to read that stuff because you don’t want it on your mind. It’s something that was going to be out of my control anyway. I’ve been staying away from Twitter for the most part, but I would hear about it from my teammates and agent even though I tried to keep my nose out of it. The biggest thing for me is I didn’t want to be traded. I feel like if you’re looking forward to being traded and it’s something that you want, then you’d be more into it hoping something would happen.
I want to be with Boston. I want to play my career here. So I was playing it like nothing was going to happen. I took it as a normal day. The locker room wasn’t too tense on Wednesday because the only other person who would have been involved in a big trade would be Jackie [Bradley, Jr.]. Jackie is one of the most laidback people that I’ve ever been around. He’s the same way, not reading into rumors. He wants to be with Boston too. He takes everything a day at a time. On Tuesday night, he came out of the game with a minor tweak. Since he was OK, we made a joke about it in the dugout. As soon as that happened, we said Twitter is about to blow apart because people will think he’s being traded. I’m not sure whether you’d say this was bad or good timing on his part.
Once the deadline passed, it was a little bit of relief for just the little bit I’ve been thinking about it. Again, I didn’t want to be traded. At the same time, it wasn’t a big deal because I wasn’t really paying attention to it. But the Red Sox obviously did make a big trade with the three way deal that sent Jake Peavy here and Jose Iglesias to Detroit. That is a good trade for us and also a really good trade for Detroit because we got someone with a really good resume like Peavy has and then Detroit gets a really good shortstop in Jose. I think both teams came out well.
Wednesday afternoon I was ejected from the game for arguing balls and strikes with the umpire. A few previous at-bats I felt I had some pitches called against me that weren’t strikes and that’s part of the game. Just like we mess up and swing and miss and make errors, umpires are human too and they’re going to miss some calls. I guess my frustration boiled over so-to-say. I had a 3-1 count after taking some really good pitches to get myself into that count. I took a pitch that was a good way off the plate for what I thought was ball four and started heading to first base. Then it was called a strike. So I had some words and ended up striking out in an at-bat that I felt I earned a walk. That’s part of the consistency I’ve been trying to gain more at the plate is walking more and striking out less. I just got frustrated and let it get the best of me. That’s not the player or person I am and is not something that is going to happen very much.
Baseball is a very humbling and negative game. If you’re 3-for-10 that means you failed seven times out of 10 times but would be considered one of the best in the game. It’s really about who can fail the least. It’s a really negative game that can frustrate you quickly.
For any rumor out there that I was ejected because of the pressure around the trade deadline, it’s just not true. As I mentioned before, I wasn’t worried about being traded. I know the faith that the ownership, the coaches and my teammates in Boston have in me and I wasn’t worried about being traded. I really wasn’t worried about it.
Another rumor out there is why I didn’t play on Thursday. It was a scheduled day off. I had played 18 games in a row. Honestly, if I had gone 4-for-4 the day before, I would have had that day off. DiSar [Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina] told me before Wednesday’s game that I was going to have Thursday off.
One last rumor you may have heard is whether I’ve been asked to play first base at all. Recently I heard chatter on the rumor mill about that, but I haven’t had a discussion with anyone about it. Earlier in the season I took some ground balls over there when Mike Napoli was sick. Mike Carp was the only backup at the time. So I took some ground balls over there during BP just as an emergency thing. Other than that, I haven’t heard anything about it.
As for how I’ve been doing here in Pawtucket, I’m fine and on the road to getting healthy again. I feel like I’m getting there and it’s starting to show with some results. I had the back problem and while I wouldn’t say it’s still hurting, I’m not in pain or anything terrible, but the tightness is there. Basically, it’s just not all the way normal yet. When I’m on the field I don’t think about it, it’s more off the field I notice. The trainers and coaches here do everything in their power to get my back loose and ready to go. I’m fine during the games. It’s just about getting it out of the back of my mind and moving forward.
The consistency of performance is just not where I want it to be. I’m still hitting around .250. I know people will say it’s not enough numbers. When you do things right and your body is feeling good, you’ll get more results. Like I said, things have been going better and I’ve been feeling better. Things like that seem to go hand in hand. I’m just going to continue to do what I am doing and try and get back to the player I was.
I’ve mentioned consistency. For me, consistency is the difference between big-leaguers and minor-leaguers. While you have certain guys who stand apart, for the most part Double-A to most average big-league players have the same physical ability. It’s the mental side of the game that people can be inconsistent with and that can hold them down. Then there is taking care of your body. It’s kind of a trial-and-error thing that you learn as you go. That’s why it’s good to have older veteran players on a team because they help you learn those things quicker.
There are some new faces in Pawtucket as Jose Contreras and Brandon Lyons have joined us. Jose is probably one of the nicest people I’ve met in baseball. He’s like a big teddy bear. He’s a huge human being physically. He’s just a big, intimidating person on the mound, but off the field is so nice. Brandon Lyons is hilarious. He’s got 11, almost 12 years in the big leagues. He’s a good teammate and a fun guy to be around.
Since I’ve been here I’ve seen a lot of my teammates get called up to Boston. How have I dealt with not getting the call? Well, of course I want it to be me. Who doesn’t want to get called up to the big leagues? It’s what you work for your whole life and play for, but I’ve had to put that frustration aside. I’ve realized when I’m frustrated or worried about that, I’m not focused on the right things to get me back to the big leagues. The first couple of times it happened, yes, I was frustrated. I wanted it to be me, of course. The last couple of times, I tried to look at the big picture. I know if I’m not focused on the right things, I’m not going to get back there.
It’s not like Xander [Bogaerts] and I sit around talking about which one of us will get called up to play third base. We don’t discuss those things. He’s 20 years old. He’s not going to be 21 until October. He’s going to be a big-leaguer for a long time whether it’s third base, shortstop or wherever they put him he’s going to be a good player, that’s just his mentality. Like DiSar said the other day, that Xander would play on the moon. If we said we’re taking a trip to the moon to play baseball, he wouldn’t question you one time. He’d just say, “Alright, let’s go,” and be the first one on the bus. He’s just a kid, that’s all he is. He’s a kid with an extraordinary ability to play baseball.
Some of my Pawtucket pitching teammates that you’ve seen lately up in Boston are Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman and Drake Britton. Rubby is a good pitcher. He’s got some of the best stuff I’ve seen. His fastball is between 93 to 97 mph. A good sinker, a really good changeup that he uses not only against lefties but against righties as well. His ability to change speed and throw strikes is really going to help him out a lot. Brandon Workman, what a powerful presence on the mound. He’s a big guy who throws hard and changes speed. The biggest thing is he throws strikes. He’s a guy you could start and he’d give you a good six or seven good innings or you can put him in the pen and he’ll give you a really good one or two. He’s a really versatile guy who will do anything to help the team win.
Drake is another guy who has a really good presence on the mound and who has really good stuff. He’s a lefty, which is really good for our pen. Any bullpen that can have a good left-handed power arm is important. He’s been up and throwing strikes. He’s had a long road through the minor leagues. He was in my draft class in `07 and he had Tommy John and struggled coming off the surgery to throw strikes. It’s hard to really get that feel back. Now he’s gotten it back and gained even more and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.
I’ve been watching what’s been happening up in Boston. I’ve seen the walk-offs the last couple of nights. That’s the mentality of that team in that they’ll work hard and do anything they can to win. You can never give up on this team. I also saw Dustin Pedroia got a nice contract extension. I admire everything about Pedy: his work ethic and the teammate he is. He’s helped me out. He helps everyone out. He’s a real upbeat guy at the field, which is something you need. You go up there every day and do the same thing for six or seven months. To have a teammate like him who is constantly there working hard is something to admire. He’s made plenty of money and knows he’s set for life. He could easily cash in and be fine, but that’s not his mentality. He would play for 10 bucks a day honestly.
Something I enjoyed recently was during the All-Star break, I had the most relaxing time. I have friends whose parents have a place in Westport, Mass. It was me, my sister and a couple of my friends back home. We went out and stayed a couple of nights. I turned my phone off and got away from everything. It couldn’t have been better. I just relaxed and had a good time with some good people. Speaking of my sister, she was a ballgirl with the Red Sox while she was working in Boston but she just accepted an offer to be the pitching coach at the University of Buffalo. At 22 years old, how great for her to not even be a graduate assistant but to get her own coaching job at a Division I school. She’s very excited about that and we’re really looking forward to it.
Finally, as for me, I just want to be the player that everyone has seen. When I can get my body back to normal, I feel like everything will fall into place. It’s not an excuse because there have been plenty of other factors, like my approach at the plate, that snowballed on me. I just want to get back and help us win a World Series.